Supervisor Constantly Degraded Tour Coordinator with Arthritis, Then Forced Her and Co-Worker Out for Reporting Harassment, Federal Agency Charged
HONOLULU, Hawaii - Kintetsu International Express (USA), Inc. - a leading company in worldwide corporate travel - will pay $77,500 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged that Kintetsu harassed and discriminated against a tour coordinator in Maui because of her malignant rheumatoid arthritis. The lawsuit also alleged the company unlawfully retaliated against the tour coordinator's co-worker for engaging in protected activities.
According to the EEOC, a supervisor at the Kintetsu office in Maui perpetually demeaned Yuko Lesher, who worked as a tour coordinator in 2005 and 2006. The EEOC contends that Lesher walked with difficulty due to her disability, prompting the supervisor to continuously harass her with disparaging remarks about the way she walked and ridiculing her for walking with a limp. When Lesher's condition required surgery, the EEOC alleged that the supervisor refused to schedule Lesher back to work following her recovery until the human resources department intervened.
Lesher, along with a co-worker and witness to the harassment, Nozomi Hoshi, allegedly reported the harassment and discrimination to the vice president of Kintetsu; however, no corrective action was taken, the EEOC said. Instead, both Lesher and Hoshi received less favorable work performance evaluations despite prior high marks. The EEOC also said that Lesher was further harassed and eventually forced to resign in retaliation for her reporting the disability harassment and discrimination by Kintetsu's management. When the supervisor learned of Hoshi's complaint to the vice president, the supervisor made Hoshi write an apology letter under threat of termination. Finally, the EEOC said, Hoshi was also forced to resign in retaliation for her reporting activities.
Disability discrimination and retaliation for complaining about it violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Following an investigation and after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process, the EEOC filed its lawsuit in October 2010 in U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii (EEOC v. Kintetsu International Express (USA), Inc., Case No. CV 10-00560-DAE-BMK).
As part of the settlement announced today, the parties entered into a three-year consent decree requiring Kintetsu to hire an equal employment opportunity (EEO) consultant to monitor the company's compliance with the ADA; create new policies and procedures to address disability discrimination; and train all employees on the ADA annually with additional live training for management and human resources officials to effectively deal with future disability discrimination, harassment and retaliation complaints. Aside from the monetary relief for the victims, Kintetsu will also track future complaints by creating a centralized tracking system and design disciplinary policies to hold employees accountable for discrimination. EEOC will monitor both compliance with the agreement and the handling of future EEO complaints.
"Employees with disabilities deserve the same respect on the job as any other productive worker," said Anna Y. Park, regional attorney for the EEOC's Los Angeles District Office, which has jurisdiction over Hawaii. "Kintetsu is taking steps in the right direction by implementing new policies to comply with the law and give workers equal protections."
Timothy Riera, director of the EEOC's Honolulu Local Office, added, "Employers must investigate and effectively deal with reports of discrimination and harassment. Companies that ignore such reports - or retaliate against those brave enough to come forward - violate federal law."
According to its website, www.kintetsu.com, Japan-based Kintetsu International Express is one of the largest travel agencies in the world and recognized as one of the top 30 agencies in the United States.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.